Prince of Wales Island Fall 1999
By Johnnie Laird

Dan showed up on schedule at the Hollis dock. After a morning of thick fog and no planes flying. John Rommen (one of my Asst. Guides) came over about mid morning and we worked on gear and the 'Cabin'. After licensing we headed for town to take 'Beaver' in to stay with Fran at the Fireweed Lodge. We also went to the grocery store and pick up a few needed items. We sighted our guns in when we got back to Hollis and headed for the Harris River for an evening hunt. The sun was still out and the wind was dead still. As we eased up through the hundreds of spawning salmon we spooked a sow. She talked to her cub and us. She sent her cub up a tree. We hurried on around her. As we were headed over to the main river we noticed a very large track in the mud. It was a jumbo and fresh. We continued to hunt up river. We saw lots of sign and freshly eaten fish. We sighted another bear (medium Boar) while moving up stream. We came on out after dark. Getting back to the cabin the wood stove felt good. Dan had gone into deep water over his hip boots. After dinner of Navy Beans and the relish plate that Annette had left for us it was time to turn in. It was nice to get out, get a little exercise and get the cobwebs out.

Bobby showed up early and started in doing chores (firewood; hunting gear; etc.). John showed up about mid morning and Dan was up and about. About 11 PM we headed out to the fish creek. We traveled down to one of the Trocadero Bay tributaries. We hiked into the creek and headed up stream. We didn't see much fresh bear sign since the flooding of last week. We came upon a medium bear and watched it fish for a while. We continued on up stream and took a lunch break. I left Bobby, John and Dan on the creek while I headed back to the cabin to get ready to meet Andy (from VA). I drove on into Klawock and over to the Airport and meet the 5:30 PM flight. Andy had made it but his gun didn't. After our hellos we stopped by the Klawock Market and picked up a few groceries we needed. We then headed back to the Hollis cabin. Andy was tired from making the trip from VA in one shot. We got his license and tags issued and snacked on the relish tray that Annette left us. Bobby, John and Dan got in a little after dark. They only sighted one other Bear and didn't see much sign at all. There are lots of Humpies in the rivers for this late in the season. We made introductions around and they ate a dinner of rice pilaf and Coho salmon with several salads to choose from. We stayed up late talking.

Andy was up early (like 4:30AM). He is still on VA time. After coffee and breakfast we called Alaska Airlines and they had his gun and had turned it over to Taquan Air. We called Taquan and made arrangements to have it sent to Klawock on the next flight. As we headed for Klawock Bobby, John and Dan headed for a tributary of 12-Mile Arm. Andy and I stopped on the way back to Hollis and shot our guns to make sure they were on. Then we took a hike up one of the Harris River daring's. We sighted some fresh sign (tracks & fresh eaten fish). We took a stand and stayed there till twilight. No Bears came out! Bobby, John and Dan sighted a lot of fresh sign but only one medium Bear (Dan passed on it). We all meet back at the cabin and talked the day's activities over and our plans for tomorrow. After pot roast, Coho salmon, salads, Apple Spice cake we turned in.

Andy and I started out the day by looking over a few clear cuts. We didn't sight any bears. After a discussion about all the bear sign we spotted in the place we were at yesterday we decided to head over there for the evening. Bobby, John and Dan decided to start out on the roads and then go up the 12-Mile Creek again. Andy and I moved up the tributary very slowly. The water was a little muddy from the heavy evening rains. More fish had moved in. We took a stand for awhile. Andy spotted a medium bear moving through the brush across the small fish filled creek from us. Just a glimpse. After a while we decided to take a hike up through the woods and muskegs. We eased our way along. We saw quite a lot of Bear sign. But no Bears. We worked our way back to the fish creek. Just before dark we moved out and down the creek. We jumped a Bear we didn't see. We worked or way down to the tidal flats. Just before dark a nice Bear came out to feed on some fish in a tide pool. But he came out right where we had left our packs. When he smelled at our packs he ran for the timber! We came on out in the dark. We ate leftovers. When the boys returned they said they didn't spot any Bear from the road but did see 2 up the creek. But passed on them. We built a hot fire and put our boots on the dryers for the night.

Andy and I were up early (like 5:00 AM). We got ready and headed for 12 Mile Arm. We worked our way up the river. The water level had dropped with not much rain last night. We noticed a few fresh tracks and some fresh eaten fish. We held just short of a sand bar that a Bear had been working. It came out at less than 30 yards. It was about a 6 footer. Andy passed on the shot. We worked our way back to the rig and drove on to the cabin. We are going to a different place this evening with our fishing poles and guns. Bobby, John and Dan headed for the Harris River with fishing poles and guns.
We all met at the cabin and exchanged info and plans. Bobby, John and Dan were heading down to the mid Harris River.
Andy and I headed for Trocadero. We worked our way down a tributary fishing while we went. Andy caught a nice Coho Salmon on his first cast. There are too many Humpies in to fish for Coho. You can't even get a lure through the water with out snagging one. We worked our way down stream and did a little fishing in the lower tide holes. We decided to go try for Bear as the evening was setting in. As we worked our way across the tide flats we saw a lot of Bear sign. Andy noticed a Bear across the flats. It was a nice Bear. We glassed and discussed it. Then it looked up and ran. A larger Bear moved out of the brush and started eating the fish the first Bear was on. This one was a dandy. We planned the stalk. We moved back up the channel looking for a place to cross. We would give it a try. The water was up to our hip boot tops as we were walking on our toes. We made it to the opposite bank. We eased across the flats in the tall grass. Another Bear moved across the flats from our right. Another channel, boot high water again, we made it. Andy moved ahead of me. At 100 yards we spotted the big one, it was nice, we continued our stalk. Andy moved to 50 yards. The Bear got up and moved in our direction. Andy looked at me for a size estimate. I gave him the 6 ˝ foot sign. Maybe more. The Bear moved parallel at 25 yards. Andy lowered his rifle. We watched as the big bruin eased into the brush. Andy passed on the shot. It was a 500+ pound Bear. Andy later said it just didn't have the large blocky head he was looking for and he still had a week to hunt. We enjoyed the stalk and being so close to the jumbo Bear. We moved on back to our backpacks and up stream to the rig in the dark. When we got back to the cabin the boys were not in yet. They returned shortly. They had found very large Bear tracks and a place where a big Bear had been eating salmon. They took a stand until dark. They jumped several Bear on the way out in the dark but they never say the Bear they were looking for. They decided to get an early start in the morning.

I set the alarm for 5:00AM to wake up Dan and Bobby. John showed up shortly after 6:00. They headed on down to the Harris River to try to find the big Bear that was feeding on the little side creek. Thinking he might be out this morning. Andy and I went on down to the Harris and Andy hooked on to another nice Coho. We fished several holes without any luck. We then went back to the cabin to have some lunch and hook up with the boys for our afternoon plan. They were sleeping. When we woke them up they told us that they had not seen any Bears on their morning hunt. It had rained all morning. We dried our rain gear and got prepared for our afternoon fish/hunt. We all drove on down to Trocadero trail. We hiked down to the river fishing our way to the tide flats. I caught a nice Coho at one of the tide water holes. We put up our poles and started across the tide flats. We sighted a nice Bear at the same spot where Andy and I got on the Bears last evening. Bobby and Dan put the move on. Andy, John and I continued on out toward the bay. We saw lots of sign and took a stand around the outer tidal flat area. We waited until just before dark and after sighting no Bear we moved slowly back up river. We sighted 2 bear moving up river on the far bank. Bobby and Dan were walking across the tide flats headed out. They had not seen the big bruin come out to feed again. We all hooked up and headed out. The constant day's rain had swollen the creeks. We had high water to cross on the way out in the dark, which made things interesting on Dan's last evening. We returned to the cabin got the BBQ going and cooked up some Sish-K-Bobs to go with the potato salad and beans that Annette had left for us. After a hot fire and getting dried out we called it a day…..I tried to talk Dan into hunting the next morning, or staying on some extra days, but because of business commitments he needed to get back. He needs to get dried out and packed up for the 1:30 PM Taquan flight to Ketchikan. We all feel was frustrated and disappointed that he didn't connect on a good Black Bear.
We warmed a dinner of King Salmon nuggets with pasta and Crab and had some fresh Blue Berry pie for desert and turned in.

Andy and I packed up the Zodiac and headed for 12-Mile Arm. Just off the Hydaburg Road in one of the older clearcuts Andy noticed a nice Bear. So we decided to check out a few clearcuts on the way. We didn't sight any other bears. We drove onto 12-Mile Arm. We pumped up the Zodiac and motored up the arm. We stopped at several beaches and noticed fresh Bear sign. We worked our way up the Arm in heavy rain showers. We pulled into the head of the bay and took a short hike around the tidal flats and up the fish creek. There was mass Bear sign. We took a stand until just before dark. No Bears moved. We loaded back up in the Zodiac and headed back down the Arm. The heavy rain showers continued. All the creeks were at high water. We finally pulled into the boat ramp at the old logging camp well after dark. Loaded up the Muskeg Mobile and headed for the cabin. The auto heater felt very good. We were very WET. Back at the cabin we warmed up leftover Beans; Salmon Nuggets; and today's dish was baked, chicken in a bed of rice and green beans and chocolate pie for desert. Andy stayed up reading for a little while like usual.

Bobby showed up by noon. Andy and I were just about packed for our mountain climb. It was a nice afternoon. After the short drive to the trailhead we started the climb. In about 3 ˝ hard hours we made it to the Low Alpine Camp. The brush wasn’t to wet. We set up the rain tarps. Andy and Bobby headed for the mountain top deer zone while I stayed and set up the rest of camp. I fixed a cup of tea and took a walk around camp. I noticed fresh Deer and Bear sign. I took another cup of tea over to the viewpoint and sat down with my binoculars. There is a black spot and its moving. It’s a nice bear across the canyon in the lower alpine. Bobby and Andy showed up about dark, they had sighted 3 bucks, a few does and 2 small Bears. We fixed freeze dried dinners and had a small fire and turned in.

Andy Ratliff had a very memorable and successful trip with Muskeg Excursions Johnnie Laird

It rained some during the night but we woke up to a nice morning. After breakfast Bobby headed down for the resupply load. Andy and I headed for the mountaintop under the partly cloudy sky. As we eased our way around the first alpine we pushed out several deer. Andy sighted one doe. We worked our way over to the ‘rock’ outcrop to glass. We spotted deer right off. First a doe, then two, and a small buck. I then spotted a reddish deer in the brush. It was still in ‘velvet’ (very unusual for this time of year) and in full summer coat. The rest of the deer were winter gray. And the other strange thing was that they were snorting the ‘alarm’ call. The ‘velvet’ buck was a tall 3x3. The buck was at 250+ yards. Andy said “I can take it from hear, I can make that shot”. I replied “why, we can get a closer look”. Off we went on the stalk. We crossed over and above the deer. Spotting another buck and doe just above the others. Easing down over the shelves we noticed another buck crossing the muskeg way down below. We saw the does moving across the big draw and climbing out and away. Not normal for our deer. Way too spooky. We figured there must be a Wolf or Bear in the area. We eased around but could not find the ‘velvet’ buck. As we worked our way back up the steep mountainside the fog rolled in. No visibility. We got back to our packs and took a short break. I remarked “Andy you should have shot him from hear!” We continued across the top in the fog. Working our way down to the upper timberline. Andy spotted a doe in the timber watching us. I took a short nap and woke up to the fog lifting. We worked our way back up to a canyon lookout I know of above a large rocky slide area. We spotted one doe at the top. We glassed for a while. No other deer. After a while I said, “Andy lets see your deer call”. Andy said “you and Bobby have told me that the call just scares the bucks at this time of year”. I said, “It does”. I blew on the call. Andy hears a deer snort across the canyon. I blew the call again. Another snort and another. The doe on top climbed down and looked in our direction. I worked the call. Another snort came from just below us. I called again. I saw movement to our left and below. “It’s a Buck Andy and it looks wide”. He was moving across the steep rocky mountainside in our direction. Andy eased up on a rocky perch to get a look. then we heard another snort just 10 yards above us in the brush. I looked at Andy. He had his rifle shouldered. He had his scope on the buck. I couldn’t see it…..The mountain valley echoed the sound of the .338. The 225 grain Barnes X handload found it’s mark. The buck stumbled and slid down the slope stopping on a shelf. A quick kill. We worked our way down the steep slope to the Buck. A big mountain 3x3 just out of velvet. Andy had pulled the trigger at about 1:15 PM. After pictures, caping and boning we loaded our packs (Andy taking the heaviest load) and headed back to camp. We got back to camp at a very tired 5:30 PM. Bobby was back at camp with the fire ready to start. We ate dinner and dessert and set around the fire for a while telling stories. I turned in first. As I drifted off to sleep the wind and rains kicked it up.

The heavy rains and winds had slacked in the early AM. It didn’t take us long to get packed up after breakfast. Bobby had a heavy (100lb +) load. He went on ahead. As we were hiking and talking through the upper timber we jumped a large wide buck. He was a big one. Andy chambered a round. But we didn’t get on it again. We continued our hike on down the mountain to the Muskeg Mobile. The hot shower felt good back at the cabin. Then we were on our way to Craig to take Bobby home and take the cape and horns to Prince of Wales Taxidermy (Bobby’s dads business). Barbara (Bobby sister) does a very good Sitka Blacktail mount. Andy was impressed and left it for her to mount. A quick stop at the grocery store and gas pump and we were headed back to the Hollis Cabin to get ready for an evening Black Bear hunt. We got back into our hip boots and rain gear. Andy and I talked about where to go. We decided to head over to 12-Mile Arm Creek. It wasn’t long before we were walking up stream. There was still a lot of Humpies in the river but not as many as when we were here last. There was a high water flood on Monday. Spawned out dead fish lined the banks. As we eased our way up the creek we noticed just a few fresh Bear eaten fish and only the odd track. I picked up the pace so we could get a ways up (to where we had seen large bear sign) before we ran out of shooting light. We jumped a Bear on the stream bank. We went on up stream. We jumped another. We eased up past a sand bar that had the freshest sign we had seen. The light was fading fast. I eased out and took a seat on a rock in the river. Andy moved up stream 15 yards and took a stand on another large rock in the river. We looked and listened. I got Andy’s attention and signaled him to blow the deer call. He made the call. We waited. My eyes worked the river and the brush in the fading light. It is CLOSE quarters. Andy looked at me. I signaled to blow the call louder. Andy worked the call (like a predator call or dying rabbit) louder. Andy gets the felling something is breathing down his neck. He slowly turns. He is eye to eye at about 20 feet with a Bear. I see Andy ease his rifle to his shoulder. I can’t make the bear. Andy blows the call softly. I see him studying the Bear. I still can’t make the Bear in the dark brush. The shot rang out, I hear crashing in the brush, then all is quiet. Andy and I slowly move toward the brushy bank. The death moan. The bear is down. It didn’t make it 25 yards. We eased up on the 6 footer. A nice Black Bear with a very nice fall coat. I congratulate Andy on a perfectly placed shot and the quick kill. After pictures we began the skinning in the dark by headlamp. Andy loaded the hide into his pack and we headed down stream. It was after 9 PM by the time that we made it back to the rig tired and very wet. The hot shower at the cabin felt good again for the second time today. Then Annette’s cooking hit the spot again. Baron of Beef, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Carrots, and Crab Salad with left over Chocolate pie for dessert. This will be a day that I definitely will remember.

We slept in. After doing a little updating on the computer we headed for Craig. We took Andy’s Bear into Skip Warren for sealing and Andy wanted to talk to him about a rug mount. The wind was kicking it up. The rain was torrential. Taquan Air had all their planes tide down. We spent a while at Prince of Wales Taxidermy and got the Bear sealed and Andy left it for Skip to rug. Andy said that Skip’s Bears were the best he had ever seen. Skip does high quality work. We took a short sightseeing trip around Craig and then went over to Ruth Ann’s for a burger. Back to Klawock for a short sightseeing tour and to the Fireweed Lodge and a short visit with Fran and Beaver. Back to the Hollis cabin to call Taquan to see if they had called all flying off like we expected. They told me that there was 80-mph wind gusts in Ketchikan. We looked at the rivers on the way to town and they were all high and ragging so Coho fishing was out. We built a hot fire in the wood stove and settled in for the evening. Andy would have to wait to see if he could fly in the morning so he can catch the 7:45 southbound.

I woke up to the alarm at 4:30 am and woke Andy. We headed into the Klawock airport. Soon the freight truck, agent and pilot showed up. The rain showers continued heavy but the winds had died down. Nick (the Cessna Caravan pilot) decided to give it a try. Andy and I said our good-byes. Andy said he would be back and then he was on his way to make his southbound jet connection.

Conclusion: Andy is a Pastor of a non denominational church in Va. He is a very good hunter, an ethical hunter and a true sportsman. It was a pleasure to spend this time with him and to guide him on this Sitka Blacktail/Black Bear Combo Hunt. He passed on a large Bear early on because he wanted to look more over. He ended up taking a smaller but very nice Bear during an exceptional evening of Bear hunting. He passed on a larger Deer than he took because he didn’t take the 250+yard shot. He said “that’s just shooting, not HUNTING”. He was in very good physical shape. We waded flooding rivers. We hiked steep mountains and rough terrain in the pounding rain. We had fun. We had a safe hunt. During the hunt we sighted Bears in the upper teens and eleven Buck Deer. We had a great hunt. Andy it was a pleasure!

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